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DSJ in 2021—Reflections on the Repairing and Reflecting Webinar

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By the DSJ Digital Engagement Team
July 17, 2021

On May 18, 2021, ASPA’s Section on Public Affairs Education, ASPA’s Section on Democracy and Social Justice and NASPAA’s Diversity and Equity committee teamed up and held Reflecting and Repairing, which is part 2 of a social justice pedagogy series being jointly developed and hosted by these sections. As noted in the session description:

Since early 2020, our global community has been in the throes of a dire pandemic, resurgent attention to racial justice, widespread misinformation campaigns, tenuous economies, rising mental health concerns and elections of grave importance. How have we survived the last year? We invite you to join us for a reflective conversation on the last academic year to unpack your experience in a community setting while intentionally setting goals for how to move forward. This conversation will include a panel discussion to reflect broadly on mindfulness as well as how can we repair ourselves, our classrooms and our communities moving forward. Following the panel, we will host breakout rooms to support individual mindfulness activities and create space for you to set goals for the next academic year.

Below, two of the four panelists for the event—Dr. Lori Brainard and ​Dr. Vanessa Lopez-Littleton—reflect on lessons learned this past year and next steps. In DSJ’s next PA Times article, reflections by panelists Dr. Maria D’Agostino and Dr. Roseanne Mirabella will be featured.

Lori Brainard

We all try to be attentive to the “whole student,” knowing that each student is different and that those differences are important context for teaching and learning: Some students excel at writing while others give riveting presentations; their personal lives are inseparable from their academic lives: some have to travel professionally and miss a class; an illness affects time and energy.

This past year, however, has brought much more granularity to what it means to be attentive to the whole student: helping a student unable to pay for internet access for one month due to a gap between being laid off and receiving unemployment; discussing with a student the risks and benefits of flying to see a sick family member; helping a student erect new boundaries between work, school and life in a work-and-learn-from-home environment; figuring out which of my specific class sessions are more important than others so that students with poor internet access can decide whether to use precious cellular or hotspot minutes for a good connection or suffer with poor Wi-Fi.

I now know that truly being attentive to the whole student means the specificstudent with precise and unique issues, concerns or problems. Those issues are not just context. Those issues are part of the very fabric of teaching and learning.

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton

Critical conversations are important not only for the future of public administration, but also for societies around the globe. These conversations are a necessary part of disrupting the status quo and challenging dominant paradigms, both of which are important to advance towards more just and equitable societies. In training the next cadre of public service professionals, public administration instructors will need a level of critical consciousness that fuels open and thoughtful discourse. These conversations should not simply support historical or constitutional precedence, but should also include an ability to move social actors to reflect deeply on social issues and norms that contribute to differential outcomes. Public administration faculty will need to be prepared for deep conversations around historic and contemporary events that contribute to an increasing amount of evidence that individuals have different experiences based on their various identities. Being able to provide information and context will be critical in providing students with enough information to offer a contextualization of events and how they might be viewed by different groups based on their background, experiences and conceptualization of social, economic and political realities.

Some ways to support students and colleagues in gaining a level of critical consciousness involve: a) being well-informed with a broad understanding of perspectives on racial and social issues that extend beyond one’s own worldview; b) being open to dialogue and storytelling; c) knowing one’s own story and their personal narrative fits within a broader societal context; d) becoming increasingly more intentional about integrating inclusive practices and perspectives in the classroom and beyond; and e) being open to learning about perspectives they have yet to be exposed to or that may contradict what they know or believe to be true.

In leading and managing during challenging times, I use a model that focuses on centering yourself and decentering your power. First, you need to find ways to connect to and prioritize what matters most. Whether it’s students, family, research or service, it’s important to identify your priorities and set an intention for connecting with your inner power to be able to give the necessary time and attention. In this regard, I use basic reflective practices such as meditation, centering, or “grounding in” at the beginning of meetings as a strategy for participants to commit to being present and focusing on the work ahead. One good example is Koru Mindfulness Meditation practices. So that the practice doesn’t become a burden, asking participants to prepare a session prior to the meeting can help to create a sense of calmness and community.

Second, decentering power begins with understanding that each of us has power and tapping into your own personal power to share tasks and responsibilities with others. Begin by finding ways to honor others. Then, develop deep relationships with others so they will advocate for you and support you in real and meaningful ways. Lastly, be your authentic self. You can do this by finding like-minded people and supporting and encouraging them to do the work. It’s critical to do this work before a crisis.


Author: DSJ Digital Engagement Team. Email: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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